Guide to PhD, EdD, and DBA Degrees in Business

Businesses power our economy, and experts with doctorates and PhDs in business have always been essential. Because of recent corporate scandals, the demand for knowledgeable, ethical business experts is greater than ever. Regardless of the business specialty you're interested in, you can choose from a wide variety of traditional-classroom and online PhD programs.


A PhD or doctorate is a terminal academic degree--that is, the highest possible degree--and requires commitment. As you consider a PhD in Business, do your homework! You might want to start by considering these important questions.

What PhD in business degrees are available?

The two most common doctorates in business are a PhD (Doctorate of Philosophy) and a DBA (Doctorate of Business Administration). These degrees have more similarities than differences and are considered equivalent by almost all businesses and many colleges and universities. The difference between the two degrees lies in their focus and the careers they lead to.

  • Academic Doctorate: With a PhD in Business, you'll focus heavily on business theory
  • Professional Doctorate: With a DBA, you'll learn lots of theory but even more practical, hands-on applications

Some schools also offer an EdD (Doctorate of Education) degree in business. The EdD, like the DBA, focuses more on application than on theory. All three of these doctorate degree programs are available online and on campus.

What careers are most likely for a PhD in business?

In general, each of the three terminal degrees in business--PhD, DBA, and EdD--leads toward a different type of career.

  • PhDs: About two-thirds of people with a doctorate degree in business teach at a college or university, where there's a huge need for them. Since at least 2007, according to Business Week, schools have sought additional business PhDs to handle the growing enrollments in undergraduate and graduate business programs. You should be aware, however, that the number of PhDs in business is rising, which means that competition for top teaching jobs may increase.
  • PhDs and DBAs: About a third of all business PhDs, as well as many (if not most) DBAs, work in businesses and nonprofits. Many of them run consulting companies or manage corporate research.
  • EdDs: Business EdDs typically do not teach in a university; instead, they perform high-level teaching-related functions in businesses and organizations. Someone with a sports management EdD, on the other hand, might plan to own or manage a professional sports team.

To research which doctorate in business is best for you, talk to people with the type of job you'd like to have, and contact universities and businesses to learn which doctorate degree they prefer for new hires.

What's best: classroom or online doctorate degree program in business?

An online doctorate degree is available in nearly all business programs. Make sure you research every possibility: online PhD in Business programs, online DBA programs, and online EdD programs. There's little tuition cost-per-credit difference between classroom and online PhD degree programs, but there are other differences. Be honest with yourself about your budget, time, personal learning style, and career goals as you consider earning an online doctorate in business.

  • Cost: An online doctorate degree in business can save you money because you can lstudy from home rather than on campus--eliminating commuting or moving costs.
  • Convenience: Traditional classes require you to attend school at set times during the day or evening, which may interfere with your job or family life. An online PhD degree program gives you a more flexible schedule for learning and communicating with your instructors and other business doctoral students (or cohorts).
  • Location: You may live and work near a university with a program that meets your needs; if so, you have the luxury of choosing either a traditional or an online PhD degree. If, on the other hand, you live somewhere that doesn't offer what you're looking for, you can still pursue your doctorate online.
  • Learning Style: Online classes require immense self-discipline. If you learn best when you can interact in person with your instructors and cohorts, or if you need other people around you to motivate you, a traditional doctorate degree program should probably be your first choice.
  • Professional Acceptance: Online doctoral degrees are recognized more widely by universities and businesses every year, but some employers still prefer to hire people who have earned their doctorate the traditional way. If you're concerned about your employer recognizing your degree, make sure you choose an accredited online school, and research university and business hiring preferences.
  • Hands-on Coursework Requirements: From an accredited university, even an online PhD in Business program may include classes and activities that simply must occur on campus. You may be required to participate in one or several cohort sessions and meet face-to-face with your advisor. You'll also need several months to a year of supervised practicum on campus or in a business setting. Many online doctorate programs are taking advantage of video conferencing to satisfy these requirements, but the practice isn't yet universally accepted.

What specialties are available in classroom and online PhD programs?

All of the specialized programs below are available in a traditional classroom setting, but remember to look into online PhD programs, online DBA programs, and online EdD programs, too.

  • Accounting, Forensic Accounting, Taxation: PhD, DBA
  • Business (General), Business Administration, Business Quantitative Methods: PhD, DBA
  • E-commerce: PhD, DBA
  • Finance, Financial Planning: PhD, DBA
  • Human Resources: PhD, DBA
  • International Business, Global Business Sustainability: PhD, DBA
  • Management & Leadership, Acquisitions, Contract Management, Applied Management: PhD, DBA
  • Nonprofit Management: PhD
  • Operations Management, Safety & Quality Control, Facilities Management: PhD
  • Organizational Management, Organizational Leadership: PhD, DBA
  • Marketing & Advertising, Marketing Management: PhD, DBA
  • Organizational Psychology: PhD, DBA, EdD
  • Project Management: PhD, DBA
  • Sports Management: EdD

What's the earning power of a PhD in business?

People with doctorates in business work in many different fields with widely varying salary ranges. The odds are, however, that your traditional or online doctoral degree will not only help you earn considerably more but also make you more recession-proof. If what you seek is an executive or leadership position in business, a PhD, DBA, or EdD in business may help you reach your goal. Strong commitment on your part may gain you great rewards in terms of career satisfaction, influence, and earning power.


Business Week, Business PhD Applications on the Rise, by Alison Damast
Business Week, Briding the Business Faculty Gap, by Alison Damast
U.S. Census Bureau, The Big Payoff: Educational Attainment and Synthetic Estimates of Work-Life Earnings
WorldWideLearn, Online PhD Degrees and Doctoral Programs
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Beyond Supply and Demand: Assessing the PhD Job Market, by Elka Jones

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